Is the Legend Black or White or Grey? This question as regards Spain at home and in the Americas has in the past half-century or so periodically interested scholars. The year 1971 saw three studies, two of which are noticed here; and rumor has it that at least two more are on the way in the more or less near future.
The first of the pair herein discussed, that of Charles Gibson, is a collection of views, ranging from the sixteenth century into near contemporary times, in the now familiar pattern of the “Borzoi Books on Latin America.” It happens most frequently in that series that the individual editor’s introduction is the most valuable section of the little volume. This is eminently true in the present instance. Gibson’s analysis of “legend” in general and the so-called “Black Legend” in particular is closely reasoned and definitely thought-provoking. His short sketch of the personalities and positions involved in the twentiethcentury revival of interest in the question is most useful, and his Bibliographical Note further contributes to this historiographical survey. Even more valuable are his concluding pages, in which he very ingeniously juxtaposes a Black Legend and a White Legend version on eight key issues—Spanish decadence, authoritarian government, political corruption, bigotry, indolence, cruelty in the American conquests, native American civilizations, and Indians in the established colony. Aided by this device, the reader is well prepared to understand and assess the twenty-two selections which Gibson has chosen.
Maltby’s study is, so to speak, a laboratory piece, segregating and investigating one aspect of the Black Legend, namely, the development of anti-Spanish sentiment in England from Elizabethan through Cromwellian times. The factors were much more numerous than simply the appearance in English translation of the Brevísima Relación, as is sometimes thought; further, English dislike, distrust, hatred of the Spaniards have a much broader base than that furnished by Spanish actions in the conquest of the Indies. Maltby has diligently combed the literature of the period and studied it carefully and dispassionately. Curious bits went into the end product: wartime propaganda, religious tracts, nationalist diatribes, tales of travelers, real or imagined, very subjective analyses of the Spanish character, warped history, poetry, even an effort at dramatic presentation, and more. Maltby contends that religious antagonisms of the period to an even greater degree than dynastic rivalries and national consciousness were basic to the growth of English convictions and attitudes. Throughout the study Maltby shows a very sensitive grasp of the broader European and American history of his period; and he writes delightfully. Even apart from the Black Legend story, this study offers an enlightening early example of the development of public opinion, and also the impact of that public opinion on national policy and strategy. The Elizabethan period, the age of the French venture in the Floridas, of the revolt of the Netherlands, of the Armada, was the boom time of growth of a hostile attitude towards Spain; the early Stuart decades saw some of its effects on national policy; Cromwell, using it skillfully, was able to gain ready acceptance of his “Western Design” and turn it into a national crusade. Studies of this stamp—careful, scholarly, objective-on the development of anti-Spanish sentiment in France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in the lands of Spain’s rivals, could be highly enlightening, and certainly would be most welcome.